The human body is truly a miracle, and every doctor should be humble enough to admit that there’s a lot we don’t know about how it all works, much less how best to cure disease. Cancer is one the last great scourges of our age, and the past decades have seen slow progress on many cures. Now, a new study suggests that some cancer screenings may not be as useful as we had hoped in terms of saving lives. The New York Times sums it up well:
…as a paper in The Journal of the American Medical Association noted last week, data from more than two decades of screening for breast and prostate cancer call that view into question. Besides finding tumors that would be lethal if left untreated, screening appears to be finding many small tumors that would not be a problem if they were left alone, undiscovered by screening. They were destined to stop growing on their own or shrink, or even, at least in the case of some breast cancers, disappear…
The same New York Times article (Cancers Can Vanish Without Treatment, but How?) has a fascinating follow up analysis of the increasing evidence that some cancers do indeed disappear on their own. Seen most dramatically with testicular cancers, there is evidence that many cancers will stall out or shrink without treatment.
This information won’t change much in terms of treatments; the diagnosis of cancer can be devastating, and very few patients or doctors would feel comfortable waiting and monitoring their cancer instead of treating it immediately. But, this new information is causing some cancer groups to at least reassess screening strategies. There’s still good evidence that colon cancer and breast cancer screening save a lot of lives, and prostate cancer screening should be discussed with each male patient. I personally spend time explaining to my male patients that the PSA test just isn’t a good test to either rule in or rule out prostate cancer.
The Good News: Body, Heal Thyself
But, I also personally think that this idea of spontaneous healing should be a powerful motivator for people to live a healthy lifestyle, as we can control a large percentage of the pro-inflammatory and precancerous free radical elements that attack our bodies. It’s not just our food or smoking choices; there are supplements and vitamins such as omega-3 which have anti-inflammatory properties which can help neutralize those cell-damaging free radicals that lead to many diseases, including cancers. I think this proactive lifestyle is even more crucial for those of us living in heavily air-polluted cities, where every daily breath is inhaling pro-inflammatory particles proven to cause disease. Let’s all take more control of our health!